In Pursuit of Normalcy: Better Care for Children in Foster Care

Posted August 24, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog inpursiotofnormalcy 2015

Patrick McCarthy, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, deliv­ered open­ing remarks at a recent White House meet­ing, and his mes­sage was clear: Fos­ter par­ents must have the sup­port and free­dom to par­ent respon­si­bly and with each child’s needs and pref­er­ences in mind.

The gath­er­ing – offi­cial­ly called White House Con­ven­ing on Devel­op­men­tal­ly Appro­pri­ate Ser­vices for Chil­dren, Youth and Young Adults in Fos­ter Care” – includ­ed for­mer fos­ter care youth, fos­ter par­ents, lead­ing researchers on ado­les­cent devel­op­ment and child wel­fare direc­tors from across the country.

The meeting’s youngest mem­bers spoke to the impor­tance of giv­ing chil­dren and youth nor­mal and healthy expe­ri­ences while in care. They dis­cussed the val­ue of earn­ing a driver’s license or sum­mer job – pos­i­tive mile­stones that are crit­i­cal to help­ing young peo­ple become suc­cess­ful adults, yet often out of reach due to lia­bil­i­ty concerns. 

Their rec­om­men­da­tions will help fed­er­al lead­ers guide states in their imple­men­ta­tion of the 2014 Pre­vent­ing Sex Traf­fick­ing and Strength­en­ing Fam­i­lies Act, which has pro­vi­sions aimed at improv­ing youths’ expe­ri­ences in fos­ter care.

The nor­mal­cy pro­vi­sion … is a huge step for­ward,” McCarthy said, refer­ring to a sec­tion of the law that gives fos­ter parents—and not an agency—the pow­er to decide whether or not a child in their care can par­tic­i­pate in nor­mal and ben­e­fi­cial activ­i­ties. It encour­ages and allows fos­ter par­ents to actu­al­ly par­ent. It allows them to use their judg­ment and their knowl­edge of the indi­vid­ual chil­dren and youth in their care and the rela­tion­ship with those chil­dren and youth.”

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion and its Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive, which served as phil­an­thropic part­ners with the Chil­dren’s Bureau and the White House, co-host­ed the meet­ing. A series of pan­els aimed to help states effec­tive­ly apply the nor­mal­cy pro­vi­sion (Two of these ses­sions are on video: Best Prac­tices on Nor­mal­cy and Neu­ro­science, Resilience and Fos­ter Care). The pan­els also high­light­ed suc­cess­ful state efforts to train fos­ter par­ents on ado­les­cent devel­op­ment and greater parental decision-making. 

The meeting’s con­ver­sa­tions were encour­ag­ing, accord­ing to attendee Six­to Can­cel, who spent much of his youth in the child wel­fare sys­tem. One of the excit­ing things that we’ve heard from our pan­elists is also empha­sized in The Ado­les­cent Brain paper – there’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty to re-wire the brain,” said Can­cel, a Young Fel­low with the Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive. That means we can pro­vide youth in care with the devel­op­men­tal expe­ri­ences that are the mile­stones need­ed in order to devel­op and thrive.”

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